went into the church—
i saw them there
one stood alone
intoned settled certainties
about life and faith
the other stood far off
stuttered and stumbled
unsettled about all things
certain of no things
“God, I thank you that I am not like that one.”
went into the church–
a pharisee and a publican
i am neither
i am both
i am dust
pray for me
pray with me
This poetic reflection arose as I explored a parable in the Gospel of Luke:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’Luke 18:9-14
Many things strike me about this parable. I noted in yesterday’s post my curiosities about humility in these verses.
Today, I feel myself wanting to say: “Thank God I am not like that Pharisee.”
But doesn’t that make me like the Pharisee?
Isn’t it just like Jesus to tell a story that turns something–that turns our hearts and minds–upside down or inside out? I hear Jesus asking me in this parable to complicate how I see both of these praying-people and how I see myself.
Biblical scholar David Lose says this about the parable:
Anytime you draw a line between who’s “in” and who’s “out,” this parable asserts, you will find God on the other side. Read this way, the parable ultimately escapes even its narrative setting and reveals that it is not about self-righteousness and humility any more than it is about a pious Pharisee and desperate tax collector. Rather, this parable is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart.David Lose
The other thing that I notice in particular about the parable today is that both praying-people are alone in the temple.
Don’t we need to pray together?
Thus arises out of the parable what for me is one of the hardest questions of all for our context today: How do we cultivate both the empathy and the humility to pray with each other across those things that divide us?